Absurdism, Books, Rhetoric

A fellow of infinite jest

Recently I summarised, dissected, reviewed and analysed Cervantes’s masterwork Don Quixote. It elicited a request for further classic works, more revered than read, to be so treated. Here, in a continuation of that public service, therefore, is my rumination on an English comic novel: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Sterne, first published in York in 1759.

The Monty Python team once held an All-England Summarise Proust Competition in which the finalists were required to summarise A la recherche du Temps Perdu, once in swimsuit and once in evening dress. Continue reading

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Books, Rhetoric

A strident avenger for insulted human reason

Aristocracy, liberalism, progress, principles…useless words! A Russian doesn’t need them.” This quote, above a Penguin logo, has appeared on posters around London outraging sentiment. It has been accused of promoting ethnic-hatred; a petition to have the posters removed has been launched; Russian State media has thundered against British state-sponsored Russian-bashing; shrill social media moralists are on the march; a complaint is being made to the UK regulators. Continue reading

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Absurdism, Art, Books, Rhetoric

Why I am an aesthete

Human lives are shaped by chance
Humans cannot master their own destiny
Resignation is a virtue
Contemplation is superior to action
God is dead
Humans are only in control of their stance towards fate
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
The good life is not a search for meaning, but a release from it
The human world is absurd and downright comic Continue reading

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Books, Law, Rhetoric

Free speech is so last century

 

News from the campus barricades.

The results of the Free Speech University Rankings are in: 80% of British universities censor free speech. Using a traffic light grading system forty-seven universities were marked red* (including Oxford, Warwick and the LSE) forty-five were marked amber (including Cambridge and Imperial) and a mere twenty-five were marked green. What is going on? Here are some examples, alas there are many others. Continue reading

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Photography, Rhetoric

# Refugees welcome

A photograph of a dead boy, face down, lifeless on the edge of the surf on a beach*. An image that has circulated the globe.

This image has, in the last few days, changed the policy of Her Majesty’s Government. The newspapers immediately called on the Prime Minister to show more compassion, more humanity. The Government, it is said, has been shamed by the image into altering its Syrian immigration policy. President Hollande has declared that the photograph has made a call upon Europe’s conscience. If rhetoric is the art of persuasion, then this image proves that photographs can be a type of rhetoric. It is, in this instance, a powerful but problematic form of rhetoric. This photograph has for the moment de-politicised the cause of the movement of refugees across national borders. Humanity, shame, conscience, compassion – this picture has instead raised what should be political to the level of the human condition. It accuses nobody and everybody. We are required to respond to the situation not politically but emotionally. By demanding a powerful emotional response this photograph decreases our understanding of the cause of the problem. Continue reading

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Miscellaneous, Rhetoric

A first year in blogging; a retrospective

This blog was created by me twelve months ago. Re-reading the posts now, they cover some diverse oddities: boxing, nail polish and Dada, the First World War, excrement, post-war Paris bebop, burnt manuscripts and the severed head of a regicide, a urinal, Hitler’s bath and Leica cameras. What possessed me in my mid 40s to start writing for the first time? Why am I despatching these absurd contemplations out into the world? Continue reading

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